China’s Sideways moment?


A cult Chinese movie is adding some fizz to the sparkling wine market
Consumer culture can shift in subtle ways, over many years. Or it can move suddenly – often because of a single factor that shifts everyone’s perceptions of what is “cool”. Key ingredients needed: a suggestible base of consumers wanting to do something new; the disposable income to acquire the new product or service; and the magic catalyst of mainstream media – in most cases, a cult film or TV programme that suddenly “tips” people into thinking or behaving in a certain way.
The wine industry is no stranger to this phenomenon. Older readers may remember the 1980s big budget soap opera Falcon Crest, which brought us into the world of the Channings and the Giobertis, two wine dynasties feuding in a fictionalised Napa Valley. In Japan in the late 1990s a serious TV news report on the health benefits of drinking red wine set off an extraordinary craze, which resulted in red wine flying off the shelves. More recently, and famously, there was Sideways, a 2004 independent film set in California’s Central Coast wine region, which did wonders for Pinot Noir sales (and seemed to do little harm to the supposed villain of the piece, Merlot).
Now it would appear that the Chinese movie Tiny Times has provoked something of a trend to drink sparkling wine in China, according to trade sources in China. Tiny Times tells a story of four young girls who are close friends in university but have gone through different life and career experiences in Shanghai. Wine, especially sparkling, is shown frequently in the movie.
So why has this particular film “tipped” the public consciousness to cause fashionable urbanites to turn to sparkling wine? I am no film critic, but here’s my analysis of why Tiny Times has had such an influence – and what formula might cause other crazes in the future:
–          People: the lead characters of the movie are familiar people who Chinese consumers can identify with (unlike a super-hero in Hollywood movie).
–          Stories: making life-long friends in university, celebrating graduation together, entering different careers and striving for a life in big cities like Shanghai reflects the experience of many white collar/upper middle class/young people nowadays. The busy lifestyle, the values, the stress and the uncertainty about the future are shared not only among the four characters in the movie but also hundreds of thousands of aspirational young professionals in China.
–          Occasions: In the movie wine is drunk at graduation parties, birthday parties, as a relaxing drink at home with friends, at romantic dinners in restaurants. This helps to prompt audiences to drink an alternative/appropriate drink in occasions that are common in their daily life.
–          Timing: The movie was launched during summer holidays, targeting the young generation and cleverly utilised social media and talk shows, such as Kangxilaile, that are popular among the Chinese consumers, especially the younger generation.
What lesson could the wine category learn from Tiny Times? It’s always important to understand the simple fundamentals of why consumers do what they do in life. They want to fit in, and enjoy life, identify with people around them and also strive to become better. When a product or service connects properly with these needs, it’s likely to become much more important.
Later this month we will be publishing our new China Landscapes report, followed by our 2014 edition of the China Internet and Social Media Report. So much is happening in the market at the moment, and brand owners looking to be successful will need to be in position to respond to the newest trends quickly. We have expanded our survey scope to include imported wine drinkers living in Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Chongqing, Chengdu, and Shenyang, as well as our previous catchment areas of in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Wuhan. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have a question about the Chinese market, would like to pre-order a report, or to tell us what you would like our upcoming reports to focus on.
Author: Rui Su

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